Bought Basic Economy? American Expects You to Fly Into Floods and Terrorist Attacks

Update: American says that if you call reservations they’ll fully honor travel waivers over the phone for Basic Economy customers.

A week ago I wrote that American Airlines travel waivers — the ability to change your travel when the air system is disrupted, such as because of weather or strikes — won’t fully apply to customers booking Basic Economy fares.

This is something American Airlines explicitly promised wouldn’t happen with new Basic Economy fares but that I predicted.

When you want to go reschedule your flight in advance (before it’s substantially delayed or cancelled) because you don’t want to travel during a major weather meltdown or a terrorist attack American waives their fare rules and lets you do it. Unless you’re on a Basic Economy fare in which case they’ll expect you to fly. Even into a terrorist attack.

That’s because they now require Basic Economy to be available on any flight you want to change to, whereas American will let other customers switch to any flight they want regardless of the inventory available. And in the case of extraordinary events flights quickly sell out, there’s usually none of the cheapest inventory available.

American Airlines doesn’t offer Basic Economy yet on transatlantic flights but they prepared for the new restriction by spelling out that Basic Economy customers couldn’t fully avail themselves of the travel waiver for the strike at the Barcelona airport.

You may think I’m exaggerating when I say that American now expects customers buying their cheapest tickets to fly into floods and terrorist attacks. But in the last week American has issued several travel waivers. Take a look.

There was a waiver for New Orleans flooding, and American spelled out that Basic Economy customers couldn’t change their travel plans unless new flights also had Basic Economy available.

There was a waiver for Northeastern weather as well. But special restrictions apply to Basic Economy customers.

Here are the ‘inventory requirements’:

Exception – tickets issued as Basic Economy fares must be booked in “B” inventory only. If “B” inventory is not available, then an alternate flight must be selected.

And as we saw with waiver this week for Barcelona (again, where Basic Economy fares aren’t actually yet a thing), basic economy customers don’t get to change their flights like everyone else even in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

No matter how much resolve the airline industry had after 9/11, it took Basic Economy fares for the terrorists to have won?

In the event of terrorism or a natural disaster, the real travesty it seems would be a customer who gets away with an assigned seat or a carry on bag without extra charge. Even so, the way to handle this is for agents to oversell Basic Economy when coach inventory is available, not to say that force majeure event waivers — Acts of God — don’t affect Godless Basic Economy Customers in the same way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Fly cheap, die cheap.”

    funny the coldest statement comes from AA’s spokesperson. Now we know that’s their official stance since it came from none other than JonNYC himself.

  2. Just don’t buy Basic Economy, I have always thought AA were fairly basic anyway, now they even highlight it, what a disgusting business they are, but this is typical of all 3.

  3. Absolute scum. They’re flying so low they may crash and burn like Cheetolini who’s so low he ran for President bragging about grabbing women’s pussies (he said it, not me) – exposing his bloated Trumpanzees as hypocrites who had just a few elections earlier been posing as the Chrisitian Right. This is the depths of scummery we’re into here. Trump AIr. Wasn’t that one of his failures too many to count?

  4. OTOH I agree with Gary. Why not just force B space? Are they really that concerned about RM???

    On the other, people did opt in to these draconian, no-changes-period tickets. So in that vein, pax are choosing to fly into floods/terrorists. I’m 99% sure the contract is enforceable (otherwise the airlines wouldn’t have drafted it). So it’s really a blessing that these holy pax can change at all.

  5. American keeps reaching new lows…

    That said, is it still the case that people booking with OTAs are not well-warned about the restrictions on basic economy? I can understand that there can be a case to be made that frequent flyers will probably know what they are getting into when buying these fares; however, I think the real problem is occasional travelers who book packages on OTAs and are not aware of what they’re really buying.

  6. It’s crazy. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much a straight $30 fare increase, fares are pretty low these days. Basic economy is much worse because it makes it so much harder to compare fares via OTAs or aggregators. I can exclude fares E, N, and B on Matrix but momondo, not so much. Hmmm, maybe that is part of the airlines’ plan…

  7. my goodness with these sensationalist headlines. AA is not the only carrier to have ultra-restrictive basic economy fares with these types of restrictions. I know you’re butt hurt about losing CK and will attack them at any angle but now this article is a bit of a stretch.

  8. It’s your own fault for trying to save some money. How dare you try to save! Just shell out whatever price the airline asks.

  9. I can already see some cheap politician being screwed over by this policy and pushing a new law to restrict this practice.

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